Our roots are in the dark

“Success is somebody else’s failure. Success is the American Dream and we can keep dreaming because most people in most places, including 30 million of ourselves, live wide awake in the terrible reality of poverty. No, I do not wish you success. I don’t even want to talk about it. I want to talk about failure,” Ursula Le Guin giving a commencement address at Mills College in 1983.

“Because you are human beings, you are going to meet failure. You are going to meet disappointment, injustice, betrayal, and irreparable loss. You will find you’re weak where you thought yourself strong. You’ll work for possessions and then find they possess you. You will find yourself – as I know you already have – in dark places, alone, and afraid.

“What I hope for you, for all my sisters and daughters, brothers and sons, is that you will be able to live there, in the dark place. To live in the place that our rationalizing culture of success denies, calling it a place of exile, uninhabitable, foreign…

“…And when you fail, and are defeated, and in pain, and in the dark, then I hope you will remember that darkness is your country, where you live, where no wars are fought and no wars are won, but where the future is. Our roots are in the dark; the earth is our country. Why did we look up for blessing – instead of around, and down? What hope we have lies there.”


From Ursula Le Guin, ‘A Left Handed Commencement Address’ (1983), printed in the collection of essays Dancing at the End of the World.

Contains many other gems and powerful words, including ‘The Princess‘ (a 1982 speech to the Portland branch of the National Abortion Rights Action League) and ‘The Space Crone’ – an amazing piece about the status of post-menopausal women.

Starting sentences with Look and I Think

Today’s challenge was to write about: a word or phrase that you use constantly. The only one that I can think of, which is ‘cool’, and that seems completely superfluous to write about even in this challenge, so I’m going for a word I don’t like and a phrase I do. Continue reading Starting sentences with Look and I Think

Why we need to stop talking about refugees

— rethinking the language we use to talk about refugees and people seeking asylum —

It is a truth universally acknowledged that campaigns based on evidence, universal human rights, or even plain common sense, are sadly not guaranteed success. Continue reading Why we need to stop talking about refugees

Germany’s Reichstag and Bundestag

On Tuesday 29 December I attended a lecture in the plenary hall of the German parliament – the Bundestag (the Reichstag is the name of the building – we’ll get to that later). These lectures are free, they happen on Tuesdays at 11.00am, and you really have to book ahead.

You won’t be disappointed. Visiting the Reichstag Building is a Berlin must. The two hours or so you spend here will give you an excellent sense of the history of Germany, from the days of the Holy Roman Empire up until today. Continue reading Germany’s Reichstag and Bundestag

Annihilation (Book Review)

A review I published last week at Fantastica of Annihilation, the first book in Jeff VanderMeer’s  The Southern Reach Trilogy. The only thing I’d read of his before was a very Borgesian chapter in City of Saints and Madman, so I went into it expecting a very ‘conscious’ reading experience, rather than what I would call more passive escapism.

You can read the review online in its original context here. Continue reading Annihilation (Book Review)